Last Wednesday I was very fortunate to go to a talk by Simon Mitchell at the Western Underwater Dive Club. Western Underwater Dive Club meets on Wednesdays and Fridays at their club house on Portage Road, which is also where BSAC New Zealand (or which I am a member) also meets.
Simon Mitchell is an anesthesiologist and a specialist in hyperbaric medicine. He is also a hugely experienced diver and a great presenter. This is the first time I had heard him talk, and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
He gave a talk on 10 of his diving-related adventures. At the risk of spoiling things for anyone who hasn’t heard this presentation, these were the ones he listed:
- Back in the 1980s, using explosives to blow holes in coral reefs on tropical atolls, to allow better access for boats. Apart from being ecologically questionable in these more(?) enlightened times, it’s a good job there weren’t any health and safety inspectors on the trip! Actually they weren’t doing it for fun, there was a serious purpose to it.
- An expedition to the supposed wreck of the General Grant at the Auckland Islands, which are over 300 km south of New Zealand. It was wrecked in 1866 on the way from Melbourne to London, and was carrying a substantial amount of gold which has never been recovered. There were only 10 survivors, and when they were rescued they had spent 18 months on the Auckland Islands.
- Helping to confirm the identity of the SS Cumberland. The SS Cumberland was sunk in 1917 in 95 metres of water after hitting a German mine laid by the SMS Wolf.
- Diving “The Secret Lake”. This was a freshwater lake that Simon had seen photographs of, but whose location is a closely guarded secret because of the fragility of its environment. At the end of the evening, we were no wiser about its location, but had seen a few more photographs of it, along with photos of some other spectacularly clear New Zealand lakes including one which may lead into a cave system.
- Diving to try and find the engine of Morgan Saxton’s helicopter. The rest of the helicopter and Morgan Saxton’s body had already been recovered, but the engine was still in Lake Wanaka. As far as I know it still is, as despite 2 expeditions swimming along the contour on which it is supposed to lie, Simon didn’t come across it. He thinks it has rolled further down the sloping lake bed.
- Port Kembla Expedition. Along with Pete Mesley, Simon was responsible for identifying the Port Kembla and recovering the ship’s bell. The Port Kembla was another victim of a First World War mine, the first casualty around New Zealand.
- An Antarctica trip, which involved diving under ice.
- Truk Lagoon. I’ve been fortunate to dive there and it is one of my favourite destinations. Having said that, I suspect Simon was diving some deeper wrecks than I was.
- Poor Knights. Again, the Poor Knights is somewhere even I’ve been. But there are some deep walls there, which is where Simon keeps his rebreather / deep diving skills honed.
- The Not the Centaur dive. The AHS Centaur was an Australian hospital ship that was sunk by a Japanese submarine off Queensland on 14 May 1943. 268 of the crew and medical personnel on board were killed. A guy called Donald Dennis claimed to have discovered the wreck, and the site was gazetted as a war grave. There was some controversy about its location, so on the anniversary of its sinking in 2002, Simon and Trevor Jackson conducted a 170 metre dive on it. They concluded that the ship was too small to be the Centaur, a conclusion supported by a subsequent Australian navy survey.
All in all, it was a fascinating talk over a wide range of dives / expeditions. Anyone who gets the chance to hear Simon Mitchell speak should certainly take advantage of it. You can read more about him on Wikipedia.